Please join Will Potter at Bluestockings Books for a reading and discussion of his new book Green Is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege, which was just released by City Lights Books.
“Part history, part action thriller and courtroom drama, part memoir, Green Is the New Red plunges us into the wild, unruly, and entirely inspirational world of extreme environmental activism. Will Potter, participant-observer and partisan-reporter, is the perfect guide… Green Is the New Red is an indispensable book that will change the way we think about commitment, the limits of protest, and the possibility of radical change.” — Bill Ayers
Andy Stepanian, cofounder of the Sparrow Media Project & defendant in the landmark SHAC7 trial will dissect contemporary activist movements, highlighting which tactics are working, when they work best, and how a diversity of tactics often yield the largest benefit. Andy will reflect on his past involvement with non-violent direct action movements, his role in the campaign to close down Huntingdon Life Sciences, as well as his current with Sparrow work as a grassroots activism PR consultant.
Join us on Tuesday, April 26 at NYU’s Kimmel Center, Room 803 from 6:00 to 7:30 PM
“I want someone to sit me down and say, what the fuck was up with that?,” says Tim McIlrath, front man to Rise Against, a pop-punk outfit from Chicago. In an interview off the set of the music video shoot for “Re-Education (Through Labor)” the single off their most recent album “Appeal to Reason” (DGC/Interscope) McIlrath states that “Americans are coddled with images of non-violence,” and that, “we have a war raging in Iraq where hundreds of thousands of people are dying,” and that “this video is about not coddling Americans and letting them know that this is a reality, this is a potential reality, treat people fair because these are realities we can be looking at in our future…”
These “realities” to which he refers to are depicted in a music video montage of typical music scenesters on an atypical self-styled campaign of destruction. (Quite literally the video shows your cookie cutter hot topic set running around with and eventually detonating improvised explosive devices.)
Rise Against, who in recent years have developed a groundswell following have made a conscious effort not to fall into lockstep with the process of corporate grooming & imaging that most of pop-punk acts succumb to. Simply put, many of the record companies are afraid of their artists getting overtly political, especially when it involves issues that make us all feel uncomfortable. Generally, the record company opinion is to do everything not to alienate a potential buyer, because they buy your merch, your albums, go to your shows, etc. The next part goes like this… “don’t get too political, because when you do the people who don’t share your opinion will feel alienated and henceforth you will narrow your audience, you will sell less stuff, and since all we care about is money we don’t want that.” I applaud Rise Against for trying to keep the grooming to a minimum while watching their sophomore album “The Sufferer & The Witness” go gold with certification by the RIAA and while “Appeal to Reason” is creeping towards gold, debuting at #3 on the billboard charts selling 65,000 copies in its first week alone. This is an accomplishment in itself considering the internet has made it nearly impossible for an indie artist to go gold, let alone a hardcore band, and it’s even harder for a hardcore band with a political platform. But enough saccharine…
When I first saw the video, I think I regurgitated the exact phrase McIlrath hoped to evoke. Literally I think I said something like, “What? – How? – What? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me?” or a derivative of such. So many things came to mind, too many to list but if I had to sum them up I was thinking…
1.) How did this get play? 2.) Is this what the kids need to see? – Maybe? 3.) Does this drip with wanton irresponsibility?
I took this question and the clip to a friend of mine, a videographer who makes campaigning tapes for unions in NYC. He laughed when he saw it and said that, “corporations love that teen angst stuff… that shit appeals to kids. They don’t expect it to go anywhere.” I guess that’s how Rise Against’s handlers, MTV, Music Choice, Fuse, and whoever else’s hand this touched saw it as well, teen angst and nothing more. To chalk it up to “teen angst and nothing more” is a sad commentary considering the state of the world today: two wars waged without public support with little to no outdate, the rate of species extinction increasing 1000-fold in the last 100 years, genocides in Gaza & Darfur (and probably a dozen similar events go under-reported,) billions of animals killed annually for human excess or vanity, the continued objectification of womyn in pop culture, and the commoditization of everything living from children in sweatshops to forests slated for sale. There are a lot of real issues to be upset about.
I think the reality of the situation falls somewhere in between, I think people are upset, and this type of content is becoming more appealing to folks as the proverbial chickens are coming home to roost. However if this video posed a true threat would the networks still agree to play it?
For those of you who know my background you are aware that I spent years in prison for being charged as an alleged “extremist activist” so perhaps I look at this topic through a biased lens. However, I do question whether or not it is responsible for bands to produce videos such as this. Sadly when one becomes a celebrity in our spectacular culture they become a spectacle, a larger than life figure, sometimes even a role model, and with the fame they inherit a heavy burden of responsibility.
The real question here is will kids feel the hype of this video and go out and follow suit?, or will they just feel the hype and shake their fists? Anyone can realize that when you employ mass destruction as a direct action tactic the chances of hurting someone are inevitable. It is my opinion that there is no moral argument for violence against people or animals, and by the tenor of his interview McIlrath seems to echo that opinion; so this is where the situation gets murky. Rise Against must consider that as their audience widens with their success the gamut of their listeners/fans is going to span all walks of life, all temperaments, various types of people, some more rational than others, and some who feel incredibly disparaged. Some listeners may be moved to act, and if they are moved to act should they be moved in a better, more sustainable direction than the imagery reflects this recent video? It is clear that there is an abundance of work that needs to be done, and we are going to need to cultivate a culture of life-long activists to address these seemingly endless problems. Wrecking shit is not always pragmatic. Not if it allows systems of oppression to stage which-hunt style grand juries, or raid homes, or scare off future activists in response to one night of wreckage. We need to plan for the long haul, and sometimes that means working on projects a lot less glamorous. Making copies, cooking food for hungry people in your community, cleaning up an old factory to make a D.I.Y. social center, this things don’t exactly meet the criteria of sexy, visually inspiring footage to make a music video from, but this is the backbone of the revolution, not an aesthetic of tattoos, angular haircuts, and burning skylines.
I don’t say this to undercut the effectiveness of direct action, but rather to say that we should be constantly critiquing (in a positive, constructive manner) ourselves, our movements, and our social scenes. In the case of this video I would have preferred to see solid examples of activism, realistic and less violent implementations of direct actions, and a more constructive approach to social change depicted in the video treatment, but alas maybe that would be too boring and the video would miss rotation…
In place of railing against Rise Against and their video for “Re-Education (through labor)” we thought it would be more constructive to invite them on here for a dialog, lets say less of an interview and more of a dialectic. Stay tuned to SparrowMedia.net for follow-ups to this. I thought it best close this out with a few links to real projects you can get involved with in your area. Take time to whittle out a long lasting sustainable niche for yourself within our larger movement, find something inside that means the world to you and take action for it. If not you, who? If not now, when?
The economy seems to be a topic on the mouths of people worldwide. Regardless of which nation, and whatever you want to call it; economic downturn, financial crisis, post-bubble America, or recession, there is no arguing that the economy, specifically capitalism, is a topic that is widely being talked about today. Everyone from pundits on the far right, to radicals on the left are weighing in and making their voices heard on what may be a significant change in the way we operate economically and the way we care for each other socially. It is both bizarre and shocking to see how polarized and nonsensical this fight has become. Some hate the proposals made to fix it, others have been waiting their entire careers for this moment, and all sides are eager to cash in from the PR battle.
From Glen Beck, and Alex Jones to Michael Moore and the anti-globalization protesters that converged upon the G20 protests last week in Pittsburgh PA, from right to left each side is fervent and exceptional when it comes to rallying it’s base, but where do the average working class folks sit in this debate? Sadly this battle effects them the most. Furthermore it effects the natural world that we all share, it effects the lives and welfare of animals who are bought, sold and used for profit, and effects some of our basic civil liberties.
Dennis Lyxzen singer of The (International) Noise Conspiracy, The Lost Patrols Band, and front man to the now defunct and arguably greatest punk rock band of all time, Refused, has a lot to say about capitalism, hierarchy, radical actions, and how every-day youth can find their own space to become political. Most of this footage was shot a couple of years ago and we were sitting on it waiting for the right time and fit. With the recent convergences against the G20 nations summit, the release of Michael Moore’s new film Capitalism: A Love Story, and the ever apparent global economic downturn there really is no better time than now to be having this discussion.
Capitalism, in its simplest terms is a market economy. Things are bought & sold with collateral similar to any old barter system. Free-market, or “laissez faire” (means hands off) capitalism is capitalism with no government, democratic, or social regulation. Within a “free market” economy the only autonomy that is honored is that of the business generating capital. This second version becomes dangerous when companies grow so large their clout outweighs the political clout and voices of the people in it’s region and hence begin to affect policy and governing bodies. This emboldens companies to dodge prosecution in cases involving things like child labor or pollution, and they can impose their will upon that of the people by doing things like privatizing & selling their only potable water resources. When reading the phrase “free market” or “free trade” read this, “the money, capital, and revenue is free to do what it wants” the legalese reads as if capital is a kind of special person, worthy of extra rights and privileges that the average person does not have. The “Free” in “free” market by no means should be misconstrued as “democratic.” More often than not, free trade, and free markets, can actually be the prerequisite for the limitations of freedoms for the individual.
Capital, or Capita also when directly translated from it’s Latin root means “head.” Essentially what we see as capitalism today puts a price on everyone’s heads, a price on every thing both living and non-living; from the kitchen sink to a mountaintop presumed to be rich in coal. In a capitalist society everything has a price, and the dollar takes precedence over everything else. At times that dollar takes precedence over compassion, over people, over basic rights.
So what is it’s alternative? Socialism is another word we have heard a lot about lately in the news. More often than not it’s being used as an insult, when a pundit or a TV commentator labels another politician a socialist. Socialism is not all that different from capitalism in the sense that it is still a form of structured government. People still trade things and at times use money, however the difference is that in a socialist economy the government has a hand in economic regulation & social programs. The government takes the power out of the hands of private companies and steps in to assure that the basic needs of the people are being met with things like healthcare, shelter, education, and even subsidies for the arts. Socialism is not a radical or leftist idea, however lately many of the pundits on the right have been quick to label Barrak Obama’s health care proposal a socialist bill and an ominous mile marker in a self-fabricated slippery slope that leads to socialism.
In his interview Lyxzen tells us that it is perfectly fair to criticize capitalism. It is not unpatriotic to question capitalism, in fact it is quite the opposite. People who consider themselves patriotic by definition care about their country, and people who care about their country should care how their country treats other countries both out of self-interest and a sense of justice and compassion. Capitalism is a playing field turned killing field. When competition for profit takes precedence over people you get things like wars for oil, resources, or precious metals. When labor becomes too costly you get morally bankrupt practices like child labor, sweatshops, factory animal farms, or slavery. People should criticize the morality of these things, and people should question the system that perpetuates and often rewards these morally bankrupt practices, capitalism.
It is interesting hearing Lyxzen, once named “Sweden’s Sexiest Man” by Elle Magazine, sing about such relevant and essential topics in his music. It’s a jaw dropping experience watching as thousands of fans at the Vans Warped Tour bellow their chorus, “capitalism stole my virginity.” One would have to wonder if the kids singing consider themselves to be an anti-capitalists, or if they just find the hook catchy, or if they despite their political affiliations feel like capitalism has taken something innocent from them in their own lives analogous to stolen virginity. I cringe as I write this, but I think Moore got it wrong when he coined “Capitalism: A Love Story” because it feels a lot less romantic, something like “Capitalism: Date Rape” would fit a little better considering all the forcing, faux sweet talk, dosed drinks, and inflated expectations from jump.
Consider how many people work jobs that make them unhappy simply to pay the bills. Consider every person killed over money. Consider every person who has regretfully degraded, objectified, or potentially harmed their bodies in order to get much-needed money to eat, to pay off school, or feed a hungry child. Consider the boy who was killed for his fresh Nike Dunks, and the first time you heard a story just like that on the evening news. How did hearing that story affect you? Consider everyone who has ever said, “more money, more problems,” and then try to extrapolate that phrase from yourself onto a global scale.
Challenging capitalism, means providing more sustainable and creative solutions to these problems, and it begins with education and reflection before it moves to action. To provide tangible alternatives we must be smarter and more creative than the people pushing for our current system. These things will not happen over night, but we could make things far better in our lifetimes. Take time to educate yourself about the global economy, about capitalism and its alternatives. Don’t be distracted by the stigmas other alternative systems are given, and don’t feel the need to latch on to any particular title like anarcho-communist, or socialist. Instead think for yourself, make educated decisions, and form educated opinions. Capitalism needs critique if we care about justice, animal rights, environmentalism, and basic human rights. These issues are important and need our voices. Visit your local infoshop, radical bookstore, or progressive café, at the bottom of this feature we will be posting a list of infoshops and bookstores across the country, if you know of one that we did not list email us at info(at)sparrowmedia(dot)net, and we will be sure to put it up along side the others. Sometimes it seems cliché to say that only you can make a change, but is it a cliché when it is true? History has shown time and time again that things have only changed when someone decided to do something and make that change happen. There is no better time then now to push for that change, and we need to start acting like we give a shit. Find a niche that means the most to you and dig in. Lyxzen tells us to find the issue that means the most to us, “…to choose a struggle that’s connected to your life, your background, your surroundings, your culture, and your age. …that if you find something like, ‘yes this is what makes me fucking go crazy’ or this is something that makes me excited, than you’ve found something worth struggling for.” Be that change that you wish to see, be that change that has so often been promised to us, lets stop waiting for someone else to do it and get it done ourselves.
In 2007, Blackwater Worldwide, the world’s largest private security company, made the wrong kind of headlines when Blackwater contractors allegedly shot and killed 17 Iraqis in a crowded square in Baghdad. This resulted in protests, congressional inquiries and the Iraqi government refusing to allow the organization to operate in the country. And now, in an effort to improve public perception, Blackwater has changed its name to Xe (pronounced ZEE).
Organizations that change their name usually do so to “better define” what they do, or to “clarify” a shift in services, and this is often in tandem with a repositioning of services or a shift in core competencies. Anne Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for Blackwater, explained that the company was changing its name because “the idea is to define the company as what it is today and not what it used to be.”
The Blackwater name has being expunged from all of its business units: Blackwater Airships (which offers surveillance services for intelligence gathering) has become Guardian Flight Systems. Blackwater Target Systems (the unit that develops and builds targets) is now being called GSD Manufacturing, and Blackwater Lodge and Training Center has been named the U.S. Training Center.
Not everyone agrees with Tyrrell. RJ Hillhouse, a national security expert and author of the blog called The Spy Who Billed Me, said the company is “obviously trying to distance itself from their image as reckless cowboys that’s etched into the world’s mind from the…shooting.” With a new name, “there are a lot of people who probably won’t connect the dots,” she said. “In a year or two, people won’t remember that’s Blackwater.”
When asked about the name change, Robert Passikoff, president of the New York marketing research firm Brand Keys, Inc. offered this: “There’s an old saying about brands: ‘When you can’t change the product, you change the packaging,’” he said. “It’s common for companies to rename in an effort to distance themselves from bad publicity, but in Blackwater’s case, things have gotten so bad that the company had little choice but dump the brand.”
Tyrrell disagrees. She countered that Blackwater’s past was only one of several factors involved in the decision. “The company leaders came up with and considered several new names,” she said. “Xe had the best potential for brand identity but has no special meaning,” she added.
No special meaning indeed. The same can be said for the identity, which is a bizarre cross between the old Xerox brandmark and the logo for Xena: Warrior Princess. As a result, the only X this rebrand deserves is for a new identity that has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Debbie Millman is a board member of the National AIGA, and teaches at the School of Visual Arts and Fashion Institute of Technology. She is also an author on the design blog Speak Up, a regular contributor to Print Magazine and she hosts a weekly internet radio talk show on the Voice America Business network titled Design Matters. This article originally appeared on the Brand New blog.